Wednesday, September 12, 2018

City Notes '18 | The Eternal Current: A Prayer for Practicing Forgiveness

Do you actively pray for and show love to the people in your life who drive you crazy?

Each year I have the joy of reflecting on the books I've had the privilege to read and consider which ones rise to the surface above the rest. There is no doubt that 2018 will include Aaron Niequist's The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning

There are many chapters and moments worth noting, but for today, here are some words on choosing to forgive from Aaron and Father Michael Sparough, SJ.

Chapter 9 | For the Sake of the World: Pray, Forgive, Love

God is redeeming and restoring all things. That includes our most difficult and broken relationships. We can't participate in the healing God wants to bring "out there" if we're unwilling to participate in the healing God wants to bring to our most intimate stories, relationships, and wounds. That way we do anything is the way we do everything. And a very helpful litmus test for the health of our soul is how we engage those who have hurt us. 

Consider Jesus's words:

I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. + Matthew 5:44-45 
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. + Luke 6:27-28

Very few Christians would disagree that we should pray for our enemies. But few of us consistently do it.

What about the person who actively opposes something or someone (i.e. family member, friends, religion, political aisle, etc.) you care deeply about? Jesus's teaching applies to those who actively work against the people and ideas and beliefs you hold dear.

Let's take it deeper. What about a friend who violated your trust? What about a spouse who violated your marriage vows? What about a parent who violated his or her duty to protect and bless you when you were young? We all have been wronged in big and small ways, in formative moments and just yesterday. When people betray us, lie about us, deceive us, and fail to honor our friendship, we can act in ways that will deepen the conflict or we can follow Jesus's teaching to love and pray for them. (To be clear, loving an enemy does not necessarily mean staying in relationship with the person. Some people are dangerous, and wisdom invites us to act accordingly.) The genius of Christ is that we begin by praying for them, allowing God to heal our hearts and lead us to reengage them in a healthy way.

I struggled to forgive someone who was a constant source of frustration and hurt in my life. After sharing this struggle with my spiritual director, Father Michael Sparough, he taught me this:

Simple Forgiveness Practice

+ In God's presence, name to God all the things that bother you about that person. 
+ Pause and listen. 
+ In God's presence, name to God all the things that you imagine bother that person about you. 
+ Pause and listen. 
+ In God's presence, ask God to bless that person—his or her life, family, marriage, vocation, health, and so forth. 
+ Pause and listen. 
+ In God's presence, ask God to truly bless you. 
+ Pause and listen.

As Father Michael explained this practice, I could feel my heart slowly cracking open its door—excited but afraid of this invitation. I told him I'd do this within the week, but he leaned forward and whispered, "Let's pray it right now." For just a moment, I considered hurling myself out the window into the nearby bushes and escaping ... But realizing that the window was locked and the bushes had thorns, I allowed myself to be led into this first step of blessing, forgiving, and loving this "enemy." Thanks be to God for wise guides such as Father Michael and for practices that help us join God's reconciliation of all things. 

Will you pause and pray this right now to practice forgiveness for your enemy?

Next post: City Notes '18 | The Eternal Current: Praying the Daily Examen

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

2017 | Gospel Fluency; Moving Towards Emmaus; Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal; Faith Without Illusions

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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